By Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN
Brain healthy foods are all the rage and for just cause — foods that are great for your brain are great for your entire body, too. With cases of Alzheimer’s and dementia (as well as other brain health issues) on the rise, keeping your brain healthy has never been so important. Exercise, stress management and sleep are crucial for brain health, but so is what you eat. Here are my top seven foods for brain health — keep this list in mind on your next trip to the grocery!
This food is number one on my list for so many reasons. Cocoa is absolutely my favorite food out there and it contains flavonols, which are brain-healthy nutrients that can help to lower blood pressure in the brain and can also help to protect the blood vessels in both the heart and the brain overall. Add cocoa powder (raw and unprocessed) to your smoothie or have a 1 oz piece of 70-80 percent dark chocolate.
Pumpkin seeds are a powerful brain food due to their zinc content. The seeds are also a source of healthy, anti-inflammatory fats. Zinc may help to promote communication within the brain and may also help to improve memory and cognition as well. Try adding pumpkin seeds to your favorite trail mix or add to your morning oatmeal.
Avocados are a major favorite of mine because they’re versatile and so good for both your brain and body. Avocados are a source of anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fats that may help to promote healthy cholesterol, as well as vitamin K and folate that both help to prevent clots in the brain and body overall. Technically, avocados are a fruit but they are low in sugar and also contain the most protein of any fruit. Add avocado to your favorite smoothie or salad for a healthy boost.
Beets often get a bad wrap as they are often thought to contain more sugar and starches than what’s healthful — actually, beets are packed with healthful nutrients that are both good for the body and the brain. Beets contain a particular type of nitrate that helps to boost blood flow to the brain and to the body as well. Enhanced blood flow can both improve energy and mental performance as well. Beets also contain anti-inflammatory nutrients called anthocyanins that can help to repair cellular damage within the body and inflammation as well.
Broccoli is as good for you as you’ve heard: Not only is it a source of colon-healthy fiber, but it’s also a source of brain-healthy nutrients like b-vitamins and folate that help to improve DNA health and also promote healthy blood flow to the brain. Finally, broccoli is a source of choline, a key nutrient for brain and nerve health that may also help to promote a sharp mind. Add broccoli to your juice, or cook it and add to your favorite salad or dinner meal.
I always recommend that greens should occupy a considerable portion on your plate — they’re good for your gut, your heart and also your brain. Green leafy vegetables (the darker the green the better) contain nutrients like antioxidants, b-vitamins and folate that are key for brain health. Researchers found that those who ate 1-2 servings of leafy greens daily experienced slower cognitive decline than those who didn’t. Try adding more greens to your daily juice or smoothie or have an extra salad in your day to reach an extra serving or two of these power-packed leafy veggies.
Rosemary is an all-time favorite herb. This powerful seasoner contains carnosinic acid that can help to protect the brain from neurodegeneration, including Alzheimer’s, strokes and age-related cognitive decline. Rosemary contains anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants that help to promote overall brain health and protect the body in general from damage that can contribute to cellular damage.
Interested in learning more? Here’s 10 simple ways to boost brain health.